Daily Reflection
August 2nd, 2003
John O'Keefe
Theology Department 
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Memorial of St. Peter Faber, S.J.
Leviticus 25:1, 8-17
Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 7-8 
Matthew 14:1-12 

Both of these readings are likely to be familiar to readers of these reflections.  However, at first glance they do not seem to work well together.  What does the proclamation of the year of jubilee in the book of Leviticus have to say to the beheading of John the Baptist described by Saint Matthew?  As is often the case in lectionary choices, the connections are subtle and somewhat dependent upon the reader’s perception.

As I reflected on these texts the line that struck is in the Gospel: John says to Herod with reference to his wife, “it is not lawful for you to have her.”  Herod did it anyway, contrary to the Law, because he wanted to—he took the easy self-indulgent path.  In contrast, keeping the law of jubilee is no easy task.  Jubilee was supposed to redistribute wealth and let the land recover from years of farming.  Both of these things are difficult to do.  Few are willing to give up their money, even lawfully acquired, in the interests of helping the poor.  We see this today with the resistance of many wealthy people to taxation to fund social programs (or any public good), and these folks are not asked to give their property back to the individuals who owned it years ago.  Likewise, in an agricultural culture, letting the land lie fallow was difficult indeed.  The only analogy I can think of would be a command that we stop pumping petroleum to allow the oil fields to recover.  No wonder many scholars believe that the jubilee law was rarely, if ever, followed.  Still, the challenge remains.

I also ran these readings by my wife.  She picked up on the line in Leviticus, “Do not deal unfairly, but stand in fear of your God.”  This is, I think, a confirmation of the insight offered above.  John was faithful and stood in fear of God, but Herod did not with terrible effect. 

The readings challenge us to faithfulness in the face of commands from God that we may not like.  If we are unsure how this challenge is operative in our lives, these readings give us a hint about where to look.  They are the age-old problems of power, money, and perverse desire.  Most of us know which one has hold of our heart. 


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